LINGUIST List 23.1355

Fri Mar 16 2012

Review: Typology; English: Lim & Gisborne (2011)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 16-Mar-2012
From: Tim S. O. Lee <>
Subject: The Typology of Asian Englishes
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Announced at
EDITORS: Lim, Lisa; Gisborne, NikolasTITLE: The Typology of Asian EnglishesSERIES TITLE: Benjamins Current Topics 33PUBLISHER: John BenjaminsYEAR: 2011

Tim S. O. Lee, Department of English, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong


The present volume is a collection of papers presented at the 1st InternationalConference for the Linguistics of English (ISLE1) in October 2008, in theworkshop “The Typology of Asian Englishes,” organized by Lisa Lim. Assuming afirmly typological perspective, the six papers in this book investigatedifferent structural features manifested in an array of Asian Englishes,utilizing carefully controlled data and various corpora. Some of them alsoquestion traditional classifications and analyses, such as the idea of“angloversals” and the distinction between stress and intonation languages.

The introductory chapter, “The typology of Asian Englishes: Setting the agenda,”by Lisa Lim and Nikolas Gisborne, stresses that while the English lexifier andthe nature of transmission are significant factors in the study of NewEnglishes’ structure, the typological profile of substrate languages is thecentral focus of this volume. Next, the introduction offers three reasons toexplain why Asian Englishes are, among all New Englishes, particularlyinteresting: 1) The rich range of substrate languages, mostly unrelated toEnglish, allows us to look into the contribution of substrate typology morecomprehensively; 2) The ecologies of Asian Englishes are notably dynamic, andgreat changes have taken place in, for example, Singapore and Malaysia, in amatter of decades; 3) Factors such as date of independence, language andeducation policies, and proportion of population having access to the languagehave caused Asian Englishes to represent different nativization andstabilization stages. Lastly, Lim and Gisborne give an overview of thesubsequent papers in terms of their thrusts and foci, while also remindingreaders of the presence of other determinants of emergent English.

Chapter Two, “The Asian typology of English: Theoretical and methodologicalconsiderations,” by Umberto Ansaldo, points out that language change is aproduct of competition, selection, and replication, and that English has neverbeen the only target in the evolution of Asian English varieties (AEVs). Afterthat, the paper shifts its focus to the evolution of Singapore English (SgE),and briefly discusses the substrate languages involved and post-independencelanguage and education policies. Three salient features of SgE grammar, namelyzero copula, predicative adjectives and topic prominence, are illustrated asevidence of the fact that typologically prominent features are selected andstrengthened in the restructuring of English in a multilingual ecology. Thedevelopment of these features is accounted for by the social and structuralprofiles of Sinitic and Malay. Due to their numerical and typological dominance,Sinitic and Malay variables are more readily available for selection andreplication. In the end, the author proposes that SgE and other AEVs should bedescribed based on a matrix of diverse features in all dominant languages, notas simplified or even faulty acquisition of English.

The next variety covered in this book is Hong Kong English (HKE), in ChapterThree, “Aspects of the morphosyntactic typology of Hong Kong English,” byNikolas Gisborne, where he meticulously analyzes the expression of finiteness inHKE. The chapter first reviews the sociolinguistic contexts of HKE, coveringcensus data, the education system, and other colonial legacies. It then looks atfiniteness in standard varieties of English, and how tense contrast andfiniteness contrast are absent in Chinese. The next section is an analysis ofHKE corpus data, which shows that the claim for non-finiteness in HKE is not anabsolute one. Instead, finiteness contrast exhibited by some speakers is foundto be non-systematic, and is probably influenced by zero copula and the blurringof the lexical category distinction between verbs and adjectives. The paperemphasizes that HKE, as an emerging system with a certain degree of variability,is still at Stage 3 (i.e. nativization) of Schneider’s (2007) dynamic model, butnot Stage 4 (i.e. endonormative stabilization). For a more systematicacquisition of a Standard English finiteness distinction, HKE features need tobe entrenched in the environment more forcefully.

Chapter Four, “Typological diversity in New Englishes,” by Devyani Sharma,discuss three of Kortmann and Szmrecsanyi’s (2004) “candidates for universals ofNew Englishes” -- past tense omission, over-extension of the progressive, andcopula omission -- in Indian English (IndE) and SgE. The IndE data was collectedfrom 12 individuals, whereas the SgE data was drawn from secondary sources. Theuse of past tense marking to indicate perfectivity in IndE is very similar tothat of SgE, with the exception being that SgE has grammaticalized the word‘already’ as an additional perfective marker. Imperfectivity-marking with -ingin IndE leads to a systemic shift to marking all imperfective categories with-ing, yet this does not happen in SgE. Though copula omission occurs in bothIndE and SgE, grammatical conditioning is evidently influenced by the substratelanguage. It is concluded that substrate-superstrate interactions could perhapsexplain emergent systems in postcolonial English varieties better than“angloversals” do.

The fifth chapter, “Thai English: Rhythm and vowels,” by Priyankoo Sarmah, DivyaVerma Gogoi, and Caroline Wilshire, is an empirical study comparing the use ofrhythm and vowels in Thai, Thai English, HKE, and SgE. As Thai has mixedprosodic characteristics, the traditional rhythmic categories, ‘stress-timed’and ‘syllable-timed,’ are not appropriate for the study of Thai and ThaiEnglish. Therefore, %V (Ramus, Nespor, & Mehler, 1999) and nPVI (Grabe & Low,2002) are used in this paper. The former measures what percentage of anutterance consists of vowels and the latter compares the duration of a vowel toan adjacent vowel, reflecting vowel reduction and variation in syllablestructure. A total of 12 Thai speakers were recorded reading English words,sentences, and a short paragraph, and then an interview was conducted. Resultsrevealed some transfer from Thai to Thai English, such as a high nPVI, thepresence of a low-front vowel, and mergers of certain pairs of vowels. However,the high %V of Thai does not survive in Thai English. While the vowel system ofThai English shares some features with those of SgE and HKE, it is Thai Englishwhose rhythmic characteristics closely resemble that of British English (BrE).

The last chapter, “Revisiting English prosody: (Some) New Englishes as tonelanguages?,” by Lisa Lim, reconsiders the suitability of the traditional view ofEnglish as a stress/ intonation language in terms of Asian Englishes, and inparticular, SgE. It begins by arguing that New Englishes should not only becompared with native varieties in terms of what is missing, but also withreference to structural features of New Englishes on the basis of the typologyof substrate languages. Lam also claims that the presence of tone in some NewEnglishes warrants more attention. She then illustrates how tones are used indiscourse particles, words, and phrases in SgE. Such uses are an outcome oftone’s dominant presence in both internal and external ecology, that is, thehigh proportion of both tone languages and speakers of these languages inSingapore. Based on these findings, the author suggests that SgE should beviewed as a tone language, and that the traditional distinction between stresslanguages, accentual languages and tone languages needs to be remodeled. As forthe typology of Asian Englishes, it is not surprising that some linguisticfeatures (e.g. discourse particles and choppy intonation contours) are presentin both SgE and HKE, as their ecologies are very similar. However, it shouldalso be noted that their ecologies are highly dynamic, and actually, somepatterns shared by SgE and HKE in the past have already started to diverge.


As a collection of conference papers, this book comprises some of the hottesttopics in the study of Asian Englishes, with extra emphasis on substratelanguages, multiple ecologies, and language evolution. All the papers take atypological perspective when approaching the similarities and differencesbetween contact varieties of English, as suggested by the book’s title.Likewise, the same lines of caution appear multiple times throughout the book,such as the presence of determinants other than the substrates’ typology, andthe questionable view of new English formation as a deviation from nativevarieties. This theoretical uniformity ensures that all contributions, despitetheir different themes, are comparable, and it is unlikely that readers wouldfeel disoriented in looking for a common thread.

The fact that the authors commit themselves to only four Asian Englishes (i.e.Indian, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Thai) does not undermine the book’s usefulnessto other researchers of world Englishes. For one thing, the book makes frequentreference to languages all over the globe, e.g., the lack of morphologicalprocesses in Sinitic as well as various Caribbean Creole languages (ChapterTwo), the use of language universals in describing South African English(Chapter Four), and the languages of Nigeria and Jamaica, which approximate thesyllable-timed extreme (Chapter Five). Additionally, a range of quantitative andqualitative analyses can be found in the six papers, which are presented atlength, and coupled with concise tables and figures. Hence, the book opens thepossibility for readers to carry out similar studies not only in Asia, but alsoworldwide.

“The Typology of Asian Englishes” is by no means an Asian Englishes handbook,and novice researchers and teachers looking for practical suggestions might findKachru and Smith (2008) or Kirkpatrick (2008) more helpful. The former covers amuch wider range of linguistic features and sociocultural conventions of worldEnglishes, whereas the latter describes selected varieties from every continentand considers the implications for English language teaching. That said, thisbook is successful in consistently associating the typology of substratelanguages with corresponding emergent Asian varieties, and thus constitutes aninvaluable resource for the burgeoning field of world Englishes.


Grabe, E., & Low, E. L. (2002). Durational variability in speech and the rhythmclass hypothesis. Papers in Laboratory Phonology, 7, 515-546.

Kachru, Y., & Smith, L. E. (2008). Cultures, contexts, and world Englishes. NewYork: Routledge.

Kirkpatrick, A. (2008). World Englishes: Implications for internationalcommunication and English language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kortmann, B., & Szmrecsanyi, B. (2004). Global synopsis -- morphological andsyntactic variation in English. In B. Kortmann, K. Burridge, R. Mesthrie, E. W.Schneider, & C. Upton (Eds.), A handbook of varieties of English. Vol. 2:Morphology and syntax (pp. 1122-1182). Berlin; New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Ramus, F., Nespor, M., & Mehler, J. (1999). Correlates of linguistic rhythm inthe speech signal. Cognition, 73, 265-292.

Schneider, E. W. (2007). Postcolonial English: Varieties around the world.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Tim S. O. Lee is currently undertaking a PhD in Applied English Linguistics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He is also a visiting lecturer at the Hong Kong Community College, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and he has been teaching adults and sub-degree students since 2006. His previous research has focused on the use of communicative tasks and written exercises in vocabulary teaching and learning in tertiary institutes.

Page Updated: 16-Mar-2012